Profiles and Features

This Travel Nurse Really Takes the Cake

PICU travel nurse, Emily Sparks, RN

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

Like most travel nurses, Emily Sparks, RN, has figured out what she needs most when she takes a travel nursing job that takes her far away from home. 

Every time that Emily packs up to move for a new travel nurse assignment, she makes sure to include room in her car for two very important things: her 80-pound golden retriever Moose and her big bag of baking supplies and cookie cutters. 

You see, when Emily is not taking care of critically ill children in the PICU, she has a side hustle. She operates Emily Takes the Cake, a small business that makes beautifully decorated and customized cookies and cakes and ships them all over the country. She’s been known to take them to work to share with her fellow nurses, too. (Check her out on Instagram: @emilytakesthecake.) 

That’s why she always looks for temporary housing with a good oven and counter space. She needs room to work!

Emily puts a lot of time and effort into perfecting the details on every single cookie. “That takes a lot of focus,” she says. “It’s a nice little break from work. I turn on a podcast or some music, and it can be a nice little escape.”

She knows lots of other nurses who have hobbies that they turn to when they’re not caring for patients. “And baking is what I enjoy doing,” she says.

Emily, who’s currently on a travel nursing assignment in the Bay Area, sometimes jokes with her mother, who lives across the country in Connecticut, that they should move closer to each other and start their own bakery. But she’s not anywhere ready to give up her day job as a travel nurse.

“I have no plans to stop anytime soon,” she says. 

That’s because as much as she loves decorating bumblebee cookies for baby showers and wedding cakes, Emily loves the fast pace and intensity of intensive care nursing, as well as the strong team-based environment.

“Everybody seems to find their niche where they fit, and the PICU seems to be where I find myself feeling settled and where I fit in,” she says. 

Emily also loves the challenge of providing top-notch care to a very sick patient. It can be very hard work, both physically and emotionally speaking. But the payoff is tremendous when a patient gets a life-saving surgery or transplant and begins to recover.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a kid who was so, so sick walk out of the unit or get a Christmas card from them later,” she says. “That really makes the hard days worth it.” 

Emily’s enjoying her current PICU nurse travel job at Kaiser Santa Clara in San Jose, California, which is her third travel nursing assignment. There’s a definite appeal to living in sunny, temperate California during the winter and early when it’s cold and snowy back home in her native Ohio.

Plus, she’s become more accustomed to the rhythm of being a professional travel nurse.

“I really feel like I’m hitting my groove,” she says.

But soon Emily plans to pack up Moose and the cookie cutters so she can take another travel nursing assignment. 

This one’s not too far away, though: she’ll be moving from the San Jose area to the Palo Alto area so she can work at the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford. It’s pretty much a dream assignment for her, so she’s pretty excited.

“The most important thing I’ve learned so far is to have more faith in myself and trust my skills,” she says.

 

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